For those regularly reading this blog you will see that I have become a bit of an advocate for going half way. The kneeling plank as opposed to the full plank, taking the arms part way up rather than all the way back, suggesting you do other things like forearm stands and down dogs instead of headstands for a while, and, now, the half push up as opposed to a full push up.
The thing about going half way is it is not necessarily easier. Sometimes being at half way can be harder and than going all the way, just like doing preparatory poses can sometimes be harder than doing the full pose.
Before I launch into a description of this technique, I will start by reminding you that there are many ways to come into yoga postures. This is the way that I am practicing. It is always good to know why your teacher might be practicing in a certain way as opposed to another so here is why I practice this way. If you practice differently then you also might like to ask yourself how and why it is different.
My main aim (physically) in doing this half push up is to build up strength in the upper arms, specifically the triceps. Muscles crossing my wrists will get stronger doing this, as will muscles around the shoulder joint and the muscles of the abdomen. You can strengthen those muscles in lots of other poses where the weight is through the arms (like plank, down dog) but this posture will ask a lot more of your triceps (muscles at the back of the upper arms).
The half push up also gets me to the floor for poses I do on my belly. Performing it this way also lengthens the back of my body while firming the front, pushing blood and toxins from the abdominal organs and bring fresh blood and energy to the back of the body.
Coming into the posture
With these things in mind, to do a half push up you start with the kneeling plank. Basically, the sitting bones move down and forwards, the ribs move to the back of the body, the arms push down into the floor, the armpits move towards the waist, the knees pull towards the chest, and the hands screw into the floor and claw it slightly. Go over my previous posts on this posture if you are feeling unsure.
From the kneeling plank the idea is to maintain this structure and feeling in the spine but simply bend the elbows.
The elbows do not go anywhere, although they might feel like they are moving backwards and you can enhance this feeling by attempting to drag the armpits towards the waist.
Instead, what happens here is that the shoulders and chest move forwards.
It is important that the shoulders do not move into the ears so keep hugging the armpits back towards the waist.
It is important that the chest does not sag through the arms so keep pressing the ribs towards the spine.
It is important that the lower back does not sag so keep moving the sitting bones down and forwards.
The elbows stay close to the ribs rather than splaying out. The hands keep screwing and clawing the floor (see my previous posts on using the hands).
And this is all made easier if you look towards your navel rather than have the head up. If the head is up, push the throat forward and chin up
As you lower you want to try and keep the hips and shoulders level, or, at least, don't let one or other of the points sag. They lower at the same rate. You will see in the video that I don't even bend my elbows to 90 degrees. That means my chest is still slightly higher than my hips, however, they are lowering at the same rate and there is no sagging. If I lowered to 90 degrees of elbow flexion the shoulders and hips will be about the same height.
I don't actually lower to 90 degrees in the video. I am not sure why I didn't demonstrate that to be honest! However, it is not even necessary to lower that far in order to feel the work in the triceps.
What you do want to watch for is that you don't lower more than 90 degrees if you want a more effective activation and strengthening of the triceps. As soon as the shoulders start to come below the elbows you will take the effort away. Obviously, to come to the floor you would have to do that but if you intend to hold the pose then hold it either half way or with the elbows at a slightly obtuse angle.
Common Give Way Points
The most common 'give way' points that you need to watch for are:
1) The tendency for the chest to sag through the arms and a valley to form between the shoulder blades
2) The tendency for the lower back to sag and the butt to stick up
3) The tendency for the hips to come to the ground faster than the chest or, conversely
4) The tendency for the chest to come to the ground faster than the hips so the butt is left up in the air
5) The tendency for the shoulders to creep up around the ears
6) The tendency for the elbows to go out wide.
Basically, the half push up is a variation of the kneeling plank. I recommend that you get a good kneeling plank going before holding the half push up. I also recommend that even if you can do a full plank that, if you are not sure of your technique, that you do a push up on your knees rather than with the knees up. That way you can move more slowly and mindfully and check you are not giving way at any of the points.
Remember, practice safely and if anything hurts then don't do it!